03/30/17: Blizzard adds juice to Overwatch World Cup; Halo feels the glow; Michele Morrow’s new game



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It’s Thursday, March 30, 2017, and this is your weekly early morning eSports & Gaming brief.

Blizzard continues to expand its maps, announcing the return of the Overwatch World Cup in 2017, with plans to showcase more countries, games and live events for the tournament. Last year saw over 3 million votes cast to help select their national rosters with competitors from more than 50 countries before South Korea emerged as world champion during Blizzcon. The company will now track the skill ratings of the top 100 players from every country to determine each country’s average rating which will then be used to determine the 32 countries from around the world have the most skilled players, who then move on to the live qualifiers. Then, players from those countries will work together to assemble their 2017 Overwatch World Cup National Committee, consisting of three local experts, who will be charged with recommending roster picks for all stages of the competition, including a slate of four live group stage events taking place across Europe, North America and Asia leading into the championship at BlizzCon 2017.


Speaking of Overwatch, Blizzard’s upcoming Overwatch League appears poised for a payday, according to a new report from Morgan Stanley. The firm took a “deep dive” into the upcoming esports league in a new report titled, “eSports: An $8bn Call Option?” with the study projecting a $100 million annual revenue base case, comprised of $32 million from licensing and advertising, $30 million in sponsorships, and the rest coming from in ticket/merchandise sales (assuming an average of around 72k streaming viewers per regular season game). However, with upside, the company sees the league hitting as much as $720 million a year. In the report, Morgan Stanley noted that it believed that the league will sell 16 franchises in 2017 with more in future years if the league is successful with adequate demand from cities that include New York, LA, San Francisco, Chicago, London, Paris, Berlin, Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, and others. If projections hold, that would mean that team owners, investing an average of $3 million per team, could make their money back in as little as two and a half years.

The Halo World Championship 2017 Finals by ESL scored records as OpTic Gaming laid claim to the crown. The tournament broke digital viewership records with the broadcast topping more than 135,000 concurrent viewers across Twitch, Twitter, Facebook, and Beam at peak viewership levels. In addition, more than 13 million unique viewers tuned in with 10.3 million watching the competition live on Twitter.

NGE and Cygames unveiled plans for the first season of the NGE Shadowverse Open, a three-month series of qualifier tournaments leading up to an online invitational finals round where players will compete for a $10,000 prize pool for the multiplayer turn-based card game. The NGE Shadowverse Open will be broadcast live to Twitch.tv from the NGE Studios in Burbank, starting April 4 with videos on-demand being made available on Youtube. Shadowverse is a fresh take on digital CCG that is accessible to nearly any gamer, whether they play on PC or mobile,” said Andy Vander Woude, co-founder and CEO of NGE. “We’re very excited to introduce Shadowverse to the west and give it the esports treatment it deserves.”

With the NBA and NFL forging their own esports entities, the NHL is also mulling a move into the space. League commissioner Gary Bettman told attendees at the Leaders’ Sport Business Summit last week that the league was in conversation with EA Sports about the possibility of a “league-wide competition.” He envisions “a game that can replicate hockey in terms of having six players that are playing together against other teams.”

The International 7 locked in its dates for Valve’s Dota 2 Championship, announcing that this year’s event will run from Aug. 7-12 at Seattle’s Key Arena. Last year’s prize pool hit $20.4 million.

The Gfinity Elite Series named Rocket League as the third and final title for the upcoming event, where it will join CS:GO and Street Fighter V. The Gfinity Challenger Series will run for five weeks, with the top players drafted into the Elite Series by professional teams.

Owners of the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood are spicing up the experience with the creation of an immersive esports theater in its adjacent Chinese 6 Theatre complex. Variety writes that the announcement was made at CinemaCon, with plants for the facility to function “both as an MX4D Motion EFX movie theatre, as well as serve as what’s touted as the first immersive spectator theater hosting competitive esports tournaments along with providing a launch pad for a network of tournament theaters beyond Hollywood.” “What we are launching is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Robert K. Laity, CEO of the TCL Chinese Theatre. “We see cinema operators working together as a global network of immersive MX4D esports theaters and becoming part of the fabric of competitive gaming. We are in discussions with sponsors, esports organizations and other cinema operators to join forces with the TCL Chinese Theatre as we bring this exciting capability to the world of online and live tournament play.”

Super Evil Megacorp announced that its spring season championships for Vainglory will hit London at O2 for the title’s first unified championships. The event will span May 19-21 as the top six teams from North America and Europe square off. Fnatic hosts the event as London’s official Vainglory team, with the action seto be streamed live on Vainglory’s Twitch.TV, Facebook and YouTube channels.

Boston Celtics Managing Partner and Governor Wyc Grousbeck talked esports on the Forbes SportsMoney podcast, breaking down the team’s approach to the industry as the team prepared for the NBA 2K league. “This first season coming up will be an interesting one,” he said on the show. “It’ll be more of an R&D season probably versus a full-fledged complete huge thing. We think the economics are real. The teams will each opt-in. The Celtics will be opting in. There will be an eCeltics.”

Blizzard laid out the launch of the Asia Pacific Overwatch League tournament series, which will see eight of the regions’ top teams square off in a weekly tournament format for a prize pool of approximately $273,000. Competing will be Taiwanese teams ahq Esports Club, Flash Wolves, and Machi Esports, Japanese teams DeToNator GOLD and SunSister, Thai team FireBall; Hong Kongbased roster Hong Kong Attitude, and Australian lineup Blank Esports during the 13-week tournament, which starts April 8.


Source: Superdata


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As leagues and tournaments continue to grow esports audiences, how are companies producing supplemental content to connect with fans and provide additional avenues for brands to activate? How are they measuring ROI and what avenues are best for different types of content? Join us for our “Esports as Entertainment” session at the Summit, featuring an all-star lineup of speakers that include the NFL’s David Highhill, Whistle Sports’ Nate Loucks, Go To Team’s Shawn Moffatt, Machinima’s Don Reilley, and Denial eSports’ Robby Ringnalda on stage with theScore’s Kyle Chatterson serving as moderator. This is a can’t-miss session for producers and brands alike who are looking to connect with a passionate audience!


Esports stalwart StarCraft is getting an overhaul as Blizzard unveiled StarCraft: Remastered, described as “a reverently crafted modernization of the original award-winning real-time strategy game.” The title received a full graphical overhaul of the original StarCraft and the StarCraft: Brood War expansion designed to bring a modern look and feel to the game with widescreen UHD support for up to 4K resolution. Other updates will include new illustrations to enhance storytelling in campaign missions; advanced matchmaking; full connectivity to Blizzard’s gaming network for social features and updates; cloud saving for campaign progress, custom maps, replays, and keybinds; support for eight new languages in addition to the original five; and more.

Hearthstone’s recent hits may be a result of the game “killing itself,” according to a report from Superdata. The research firm reports that February saw the game revenues on iOS and Android decline to its lowest point since game launch, noting that "Recent gameplay decisions have been unpopular with the Hearthstone community, and the result has been a sharp decrease in conversion on mobile."


EA laid out plans for EA PLAY from June 10-12, serving up a lineup of experiences that will feature the likes of Star Wars Battlefront and Need for Speed with that opportunity for fans to get a taste of upcoming titles that include Madden NFL 18, FIFA 18 and NBA LIVE 18. In the announcement, the company also stated that “we have an extensive content program for our players joining us online. Throughout the three-day event we will be providing you with detailed gameplay deep dives, competitive events and exclusive interviews with the development teams” Tickets for the event, which coincides with E# go on sale on April 20.

Capcom hits WonderCon in Anaheim this weekend with a slate of new and upcoming games, as well as a Street Fighter panel. Games will include the recently announced The Disney Afternoon Collection, which will be playable publicly for the first time. At the booth, fans will also be able to go hands-on with the upcoming Ultra Street Fighter II on Nintendo Switch, experience Resident Evil 7 biohazard and face off in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and Street Fighter V.

Consumer tech brand Hisense is launching an extensive marketing partnership to become the exclusive TV provider of Evil Geniuses. The marketing sponsorship runs through 2017. Activations will include a slate of co-branded events, a presence at major tournaments and extensive digital promotions. “We are thrilled for Evil Geniuses to join the Hisense family and to be a part of one of the fastest growing entertainment segments in the world,” said Mark Viken, Vice President of Marketing at Hisense. “The competitive gaming community and larger amateur gaming community are essential target markets for Hisense, and we can think of no better way to get involved with this movement.” Hisense and Evil Geniuses will activate their partnership immediately through an expanded presence during major esports tournaments in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Las Vegas and Seattle. 
Gfinity announced that OMEN by HP will serve as the first official partner of its upcoming esports tournament, the Gfinity Elite Series. Deal points will see OMEN integrated throughout the season, which launching in June. 

Lagardere Sports is doubling down on its esports partnerships, and has signed League of Legends team ROCCAT to its client roster where they will join Unicorns of Love at the agency. Lagardere Sports will serve as the exclusive marketing partner of the esports team, overseeing partnerships and marketing for the squad.


The World Video Game Hall of Fame revealed its contenders for the 2017 class, announcing 12 games that will serve as finalists: Donkey Kong, Wii Sports, Final Fantasy VII, Halo: Combat Evolved, Microsoft Windows Solitaire, Mortal Kombat, Myst, Pokemon Red and Green, Portal, Resident Evil, Street Fighter II and Tomb Raider. The winners will be inducted on May 4.

Gamestop is trimming the fat and will close a minimum of 150 stores this year, according to USA Today. The store saw hardware sales dip 29% and software down 19.3% during the holiday quarter, with a spokeperson stating that closures come as part of the company’s "annual strategy" to trim non-productive stores from its roster.

Blizzard Entertainment launched Blizzard Collectibles, a new line of premium statues, replicas, and artwork designed and produced directly by the company. Products will open with a new stature of Widowmaker from Overwatch, but includes “multiple existing pieces, including the Hearthstone Collectible Keepsake Box, Grommash Hellscream and Illidan Stormrage from the Warcraft universe.” “We tend to go all-in when it comes to representing the things we’re passionate about in our work, and that’s exactly what we’re doing with this new line of high-end statues, replicas, and artwork,” said Matthew Beecher, VP of Global Consumer Products at Blizzard Entertainment. "Our goal with Blizzard Collectibles is to produce pieces of art that capture the personality of our games, and we’re excited to share these premium items with gamers and collectors worldwide.”

India’s animation and entertainment company Toonz Media Group announced the launch of Toonz Games, a new global division designed to develop “world class games” on a variety of platforms including: Android, iOS, Windows and others. The division launches today with an eye to “use the latest technologies available, along with the support of AR and VR, to create stunning and thrilling gaming experiences.” "Toonz always believes in entertaining the world in the newest and most innovative ways. I believe ‘Toonz Games’ holds immeasurable potential to take entertainment, in general, and gaming, in particular, to a totally new level. Toonz promises to create entertainment with a soul," commented P. Jayakumar, CEO, Toonz Media Group. 


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Twitch is set to officially start selling PC games and in-game content through its website “soon,” according to Yahoo Esports. The platform will allow any viewer watching a stream to buy the game being streamed, including relevant in-game content with the feature automatically popping up for Partnered streamers, who then earn money from purchases made via their channel pages. At launch, the feature will apply to about 50 games.

Xbox One’s latest update now integrated Microsoft’s streaming platform Beam into the mix in addition to a new Xbox user experience made up of a new design for Guide, improvements to Home, etc. The new Home design will look to offer improved performance, placing content related to a user’s current games front and center while the new Xbox Guide appears as a quick panel by pressing the Xbox button on the controller to access friends, messages, achievements, and more.

POWER PLAYERS  Michele Morrow

From anchoring BlizzCon to delivering esports news to covering groundbreaking tournaments to voicing the likes of Hearthstone’s Alleria Windrunner and beyond, esports personality/pillar Michele Morrow continues to serve as a media pioneer as gaming culture flows into the mainstream highway. Morrow’s newest project sees her join Jesse Cox as co-creator/executive producer and actor for a new upcoming esports-based series in production for YouTube Red. The show, set for six half-hour episodes, is being produced with Dan Harmon’s Starburns Industries and features YouTube stars Dan Avidan and Arin Hanson (of Game Grumps) as a newly formed team of eSports players “trying to make it to the top in the cutthroat world of competitive gaming.”

Cynopsis Esports asked Morrow  a finalist for the Cynopsis Ambassador Award as esports personality of the year – about the evolution of esports, her new show and her passion for gaming culture.

Morrow on the evolution of esports: I think there’s been tons of improvement since I first entered the scene. Much credit is owed to the esports industry veterans who have been around far longer than myself; those who have consistently served to keep their respective communities authentic and safe. But these communities have grown significantly.

One of the biggest issues with esports in general, is that it isn’t localized. Mainstream audiences like to cheer for a home team. It doesn’t matter what the sport or esport it is. For instance, my family might not be able to tell you everything about baseball or football, but they sure as hell cheer for Washington based teams. Following that logic, Blizzard made a significant impact with Dorm 2015, and surpassed everyone’s expectations by making it mainstream collegiate. I’ll never forget the ASU team’s faces backstage when they discovered that the Quarterback of their football team had tweeted out, "I have no idea what I’m watching on ESPN2 right now… But GO DEVILS!!"

On the next level: For esports to hit the next level of mainstream connection though, we need to address confusions surrounding all the different types of competitive gaming that live under each team brand. We also need to better communicate tournament structures, and organizers. And, in order for this industry to truly thrive, we need a governing body. It’s complicated, but I think we’re heading in the right direction.

On the personal impact of gaming: I’ve been playing games since as far back as I can remember. My parents were really cool about gaming. But, I didn’t compete or anything like that. When I moved to LA I took a break for several years, but after suffering a severe neck injury on a film set in 2007, I started gaming again as a way to pass the time. I fell in love with Blizzard games — they saved my life. I had fallen into severe depression, and I honestly don’t know where I’d be right now if I didn’t have that outlet. So, I played and watched a bunch of WoW arena, and spent time writing, reviewing and eventually hosting shows about gaming. Although I casually watched League, it wasn’t until 2014 when I co-anchored Blizzcon, that I was thrust into the detailed world of esports. Over the last few years, my role has grown to reporting esports news, interviewing players, and making this crazy world digestible for mainstream audiences.

On the new series: My series with YouTube Originals was originally inspired by my experience at Dorm 2015. I’ve been working on it for over two years, collecting stories, and collaborating with my co-creator, and esports ex-team owner, Jesse Cox. I’m actually sitting on set right now! Words can’t express how happy I am with this project. I get to work with an incredible team of people, including Dan Harmon, and our hilarious writing team, Sarah Carbiener and Erica Rosbe of Rick & Morty. I feel very lucky. We’ve made sure to include several endemic esports brands and figures in the series to set the stage for a brilliant character driven comedy. I’m starring in the series alongside Arin Hanson and Dan Avidan of the Game Grumps. I can’t tell you much more, but it will air in late 2017.

On mentors: Chris Hardwick has always given me incredible hosting advice, and I deeply respect how hardworking he is. I’ve also found words of wisdom from many game developers, like Chris Metzen and Randy Pitchford. And, Matt Armstrong has mentored me for a video game I’m developing. As far as mentoring others, I can only hope I’m good enough at my job to inspire anyone else. People have reached out to me, and that always feels good.


Caesars Entertainment continues to cultivate its esports play, naming Christian Stuart to the newly created position of Executive Vice President of Gaming and Interactive Entertainment where he will be responsible for all gaming products and services across the company’s existing portfolio. Caesars will also look to expand its customer base and partner with new, emerging industries. In the past year alone, Caesars has played host to Amazon’s first-ever eSports tournament for mobile games, launched Las Vegas’ first virtual reality lounge featuring Oculus Rift, and will be hosting the Gears Pro Circuit Open at Bally’s Atlantic City.

ON THIS DAY in 1998: Sony Online Entertainment is formed.    
Trivia: The city of Derby in the UK named a street after which iconic game heroine? (Email chris-sports@cynopsis.com with your answer and be sure to include your name, company and city.)

Answer to Our Last Sports Trivia Question: The game Batman: Arkham Knight sees the death of Dr. Pamela Lillian Isley, better known by what name?  Answer: Poison Ivy. Kudos: Chris Davies-Virgin/London; Luke Watson-Roker Labs/NY; Danny Araque/NY; Gabrielle Pedro Fredrick-National Geographic/DC; Jeff Grant-Turner/Atlanta; Jorge Tatto-Wasserman/Toronto; Matt Fumagalli-NBC Sports/Chicago; Andy Pittman-TAMU/College Station; Daniel Hanson/Vail; David Westberg-SAG-AFTRA Federal Credit Union/Burbank; Elena Chavira-OMD/LA; Greg Dudsic/Venice; Tom Moore-Kalt Productions/LA.

Later — Chris
Chris Pursell for Cynopsis | eSports @VegasandVine

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